The Nature of Terrorism

Given the growing global threats of terrorism, it is significant that an understanding of the history, nature and mechanism-premises under which terror operates is obtained. This is significant as it would shape the perspective of policy makers when addressing issues of this nature. Terrorism, as it is understood is the action of none-state weak actors, individual or groups, who for some reasons feels suppressed, marginalized and, or denied what they may view as the basic human right.

All terrorism has political objectives, even though the perpetrators may use religious relics to appeal to a wider existing audience, and invoke a response through violent act to prove or propagate their point. Yoram Schweitzer in “Suicide Terrorism Development & Characteristics,” Mark Sedgwick in “Al-Qaeda and the “Nature of Religious Terrorism,” and Dr. James Armstrong, all demonstrates that suicide terror attacks are politically motivated even though the perpetrator may use religious symbolism to justifies their acts. Observing areas in the world where terrorism is frequent, especially in the Middle East, it can be argued that groups that engaged in terrorists’ activities are those that feel suppressed and taken advantage of by a much greater power. Thus, terrorism, particularly suicide terror is prevalent in areas where systems of gross injustice seem to exist.

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Therefore, the actual use of terrorism by non-state actors is a tactic aimed at polarizing the population in their favor. By killing people in mass number, they are attempting to take away the view that only the state can legitimately kill – thus undermining the state authority. As Armstrong, Sedgwick and Schweitzer exemplify, suicide terrorism is not a new happening, but an old historical phenomenon. And that just as modern day terror organizations, particularly Al-Qaeda, uses religious concepts to motivate its actions (though their immediate goal is political), various old terrorist groups have used similar approached to achieve their political end. To understand the history of suicide terrorism and how terrorist groups in the past have used religious tone to propagate their political course, Armstrong pointed out the Zealots-an extremist Jewish sect that opposed Jesus.

The Zealots engaged in political assassinations of their political foe, knowing that they would be killed in the process. Even though their ultimate goal might have been religious, the Zealots immediate aim was political. In the same way, during the third century, the Assassins- a notorious terrorist wing (similar in nature to Al-Qaeda) in modern day Syria, assassinated many of their political opponents in order to establish their own form of Islam. In this case, although their ultimate goal was religious, their immediate objective was political. They wanted to institute a government that would represent their view.

According to Armstrong, these were the first sets of suicide terrorism. Besides their used of terror, these two groups share other things in common. They both resorted to suicide terrorism based on the situations they find themselves. As indicated, they both feel suppressed or taken advantage of, and consequently wanted to turn their situation around through the use of suicide terror. Armstrong cited that the first wave of modern day suicide terror occurred in Lebanon at an American embassy in Beirut 1983, and was carried by Hezbollah (meaning the army of God). The formation of Hezbollah and its used of suicide terrorism came about as a result of Lebanon being under foreign occupational forces from Israel, France and the United States.

The second suicide terror attack by Hezbollah was against the U.S. Marines headquarter, which was followed by an attack on the French multinational force. The last two, as Schweitzer’s (2000: 2) implies, resulted in the death of 300 personals and dozens injured. These events led to the departure of Western forces from Lebanon. Having two more enemies to face, Hezbollah redirected its suicide terror attacks against South Lebanese Army and Israeli military positions.

Hezbollah suicide terror attacks forced the Israeli army to pullout from their heartland of central Lebanon, and caused the UN peacekeeping force to withdraw completely. Observing such occurrence, one could notice that Hezbollah’s actions were mainly political. Even though they may glorify and promote martyrdom to achieve their course. Also Schweitzer’s demonstrates that Hezbollah tends to use suicide terror against Israel as a deterrent and retaliatory apparatus. He exemplify for instance, that after an Israeli air force assassinated Abas Musavi, secretary general of Hezbollah in February 1992, Hezbollah retaliated by carrying out suicide bombing against Israeli embassy in Buenos Ares, in March 1992 injuring 250 people and killing 29.

In addition, Armstrong forwarded that, terrorist organizations tend to decrease their terror activities whenever they seem to achieve a political objective. For instance, he reasoned that in Lebanon, suicide terror increased when the Israeli army arrested top Hezbollah leaders, but decreased when the prisoners were released. These indicate that the primary goal of suicide terrorist organization is political, not religious. Also, because the dominant religion in the Middle East is that of Islam, terrorist organizations use this to their advantage. By using religious tone to propagate their course, they are effectively communicating to an audience that understands them in that term, which helps to promote their political agenda.

To illustrate that the main objective of suicide terror groups is not religious, but political, Armstrong cited the Tamil separatist group in Sri Lanka-the LTTE as another example. The LTTE is a secular nationalist group that seeks to establish an independent state in Sri Lanka that is occupied by the ethic Tamils. The LTTE has engaged in conventional, guerrilla, and terror campaign, with over 200 suicides bombing (more than any other terrorist group) since the late 1980s. The carnage has lasted for two decades now and has resulted in the deaths of 60, 000 people. Although the LTTE gained some of their inspiration from Hezbollah, they are clearly a secular group with no religious claim to back or color their course; but have so far committed the greatest number of suicides terrorism in history.

The popular image of Muslims Arabs in the Middle-East shouting “God is great” in the wake of terror attacks might have blinded some scholars into concluding that the main motivation for terrorism is religion. Suicide terrorism spreads to Israel in 1993 by the “Islamic Resistance Movement” (Hamas) and the “Palestinian Islamic Jihad” (PIJ). Hezbollah also influenced both of these two groups with regard to the uses of suicide terrorism. Because their audience is predominantly Islamic, they have been successful in exploiting just that in propagating their course against Israel. In essence, what Hamas is doing is what any other group (terrorist or non-terrorists) would do – speak in the language that their audience would understand the most.

In this case Islam. Secondly, it has been argued that the practical existence of the day-to-day Palestinians lives-living under constant occupation by a much greater power, Israel, created a condition for suicide terrorism to strive. The pervading view is that Israel, being a super military power in that part of world has used and continues to exercise absolute military superiority over the Palestinian people with the backing of the United States. This, most scholars argued, have created enormous amount of anxiety, desperation and anger between Palestinian and Arabs alike all over the globe. Since 1993, Hamas has carried out numerous of suicide bombing against Israeli claiming that they have no interest in politics and that their main objective is based on moral grounds-aimed at avenging the death of their loved once and to create a stable social situation for the Palestinians. Armstrong (2006) argues that this may be partially true because over the years, Hamas embarked on many social programs, health care, education and various construction projects to better the lives of the Palestinian people.

But as evident today, Hamas has transformed its movement into political stage in its quest to institute a system or government that would represent their view. Armstrong (2006) attests that this new wave of religious terrorism might have derived from the fall of the Soviet Union. The fall of the Soviet, which also marked the end of colonial outposts in most of the Middle East, created a vacuum in anti-colonial terrorism, resulting in religious suicide terror. Thus, most of what Middle Eastern terrorism is about today is anti-imperialism. They view western way of life as suppressive and corrupt and wanted to create a state or government that would protect their culture. This view is illustrated in most of Osama bin Laden’s (head of Al-Qaida) demands – that the United States should pull out all its force from Middle Eastern lands.

His main goal is to create a system of govern with very little or no western influence. This brought me to the question as to whether the U.S. war on terror has been effective. Most scholars have argued that the United States has fashioned conditions in the Middle East, especially in Iraq that would precipitate the creation of more terrorist activities than existed there before.

All together, Armstrong (2006) argues that the U.S. war on terror is equivalent to waging a war on global warming by producing high fuel machinery that doubles the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. You cannot fight a successful battle against problem by creating conditions that caused it in the first place. But this is exactly what the U.

S. is doing. By invading Iraq and deploying our forces there, we are unconsciously proving the points or propaganda of terrorist organizations that, the U.S. is this evil country that is taking over or occupying Arab lands and is suppressing Muslims all over the world. They are not aware that the US main interest is to protect freedom and liberty of all people, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation.

Also, as Armstrong exemplify, one cannot fight against terrorism because it is a tactics, a strategy of non-state weak actors. Thus, in order for terrorists groups to get what they want, they need all the strategies they have employed this far – invoking response that would prove their point through violent theater, solicit mass organization to achieve their goal, polarization of the population and the use of symbolism and exploitation of religious tones to justify their course even though their immediate goal might be political. Absorbing both the intellectual and moral realm of this argument, terrorism of any kind is unacceptable. By engaging in terror activities, the propagators inexplicable invalidate whatever moral argument they might have had. People should follow the examples of Mohammad Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s Jr., non violence approach to fight for a course they believe is just.